Hari ng Tondo – written by actress and screenwriter Bibeth Orteza and directed by Carlitos Siguion-Reyna for the Director’s Showcase category of the 10th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival – provided viewers with uniquely Filipino humor and drama, a storyline with loopholes, and a funny yet remarkable lesson about looking back.
Ricardo Villena (Robert Arevalo) was on the brink of bankruptcy due to investments gone wrong. He immediately decided to sell these investments – mostly properties – to pay off his debts and for his grandchildren to still acquire parts of his fortune, except for the apartment complex in Tondo he named ‘Alapaap’. He would be eventually forced to leave his mansion in Forbes Park to go back to Alapaap and live there. He also brought along his two grandchildren grown up to the comforts of Forbes, Anna (Cris Villonco) and Ricky (Rafa Siguion-Reyna). While the two naturally got disgusted with the environment in Tondo, Ricardo on the other hand was surprised with the outcome of Alapaap after he left it to enjoy the luxury of living in Makati.
Meanwhile, Ricardo’s grandchildren were struggling with their relationships with their parents. Anna strongly opposed her mother Olivia’s (Ali Sotto) plea to marry Mark despite his infidelity. Ricky’s father Julio (Audie Gemora) disagrees with the former’s pursuit of being a musician, which however caused his failing performance in school. The two eventually decided to accompany their grandfather in Alapaap, and from there went the ‘misadventures’ of Ricardo, Anna and Ricky in Tondo.
The film seemingly brought viewers back to how Filipino was in the years when sitcoms were household hits (for the 20-somethings or below, it may be a glimpse of it, rather). The fart jokes, cheesy lines and comic misunderstandings between the rich and the poor somehow reminded us of John en Marsha and Home Along Da Riles (sans the slapstick comedy). After all, Orteza herself wrote the screenplay for the equally-popular Enteng Kabisote/Okay Ka, Fairy Ko! series on television and film.
The film also revealed its musical side, thanks to the two original songs sung by Ricky and another character Rauna (Aiza Seguerra), a lesbian tambay in Alapaap. The most notable musical performance would be Arevalo’s heartwarming rendition of the classic love song Bituing Marikit, which he intended to sing for his old love Felisa (Liza Lorena). He eventually got the attention of the residents of Alapaap for his serenade, and for being showered with pee by Felisa afterwards.
On the other hand, the film also portrayed its dark side, particularly the seemingly perennial problem of poverty in Tondo. The disgust of Anna and Ricky in using the bathroom, Vic (Gian Magdangal) and his battered girlfriend Sally (Ciara Sotto) having sex in a room at Ricardo’s unit (which eventually turned to physical violence), pagpag (leftover food from hotels, restaurants and households), gang wars. However, some of these and other related scenes were portrayed lightly, which is very evident of the Filipino brand of humor.
However, the film did not provide both background and resolution in some of the scenes, thus making them open in some way. We never got to know how Ricardo, a widower, raised his children Julio and Olivia, which could had caused them to treat their children in maybe the same manner. Anna may have fallen in love with a barangay employee with a cleft palate or ngongo (Lorenz Martinez), but it ended with his sudden relationship with Sally. We never got to find out how Vic and Olivia’s husband (Quizon) would face the consequences of their ruthless acts.
The portrayals of the actors in the film were commendable and close to the real thing. Included in the exceptional acts were Villonco’s deep hurt after her failed relationship with the ngongo, Seguerra’s siga-like and musical performances, and Arevalo’s overall performance.
The highlights of his portrayal were his serenade for Felisa, and his emotional walk along the streets of Tondo which ended up crying in the middle of a garbage-dumped squatters’ area (which may have portrayed his failure to do something better for his hometown, Tondo, where he proclaimed himself as ‘king’.)
The film may had not provided a logical storyline and may have narrative gaps, but it did great in entertaining viewers through the misadventures of Ricardo and his grandchildren during their stay in Tondo.
Overall, it somehow encouraged us to look back: at how effectively entertaining Filipino comedy and drama acts were done before; at how perennial the problem of poverty in Tondo had become despite the place being the cradle of Filipino heroes; and at how we can do something better as an expression of gratitude to where we came from.
PS: Robert Arevalo won as Best Actor and Cris Villonco as Best Supporting Actress for their respective portrayals in Hari ng Tondo for the Director’s Showcase category of Cinemalaya X. The film also won the Special Jury Prize this year.
Hari ng Tondo (Where I am King) will also be featured in this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Thanks to Cinemalaya Foundation and UP Cineastes’ Studio for the partnership which brought Cinemalaya X special screenings at the University of the Philippines-Diliman.